Top 10 Reasons to Support Sex Education in Schools

There's nothing simple about teaching kids about sex. In these times of precocious pre-teens, pregnancy among teenagers, and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), children and adolescents need much more than a one-time chat about the birds and the bees. Pregnancy prevention and safer sex really should be ongoing, age-appropriate topics.

Ideally, children will get all of the information they need at home from their parents, but school should also be an important source of information. Research has shown time and time again that abstinence-only education doesn't work. Here are 10 reasons why comprehensive sex education should be taught in schools.


Failure of Abstinence-Only Education

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The research has shown it time and time again: Abstinence-only education doesn't affect the rates at which teenagers decide to have sex. Given that the primary purpose of abstinence-only education is to do exactly that, it is clear that it doesn't work.

Admittedly, comprehensive sex education doesn't discourage kids from having sex either. However, it does teach them how to have safer sex.


Teens Need to Know Safer Options

One of the biggest problems with abstinence-only education is that it denies teenagers the chance to learn about acceptable options other than abstinence. Given that no form of sex education has been shown to effectively convince teenagers not to have sex, this is a significant problem.

Presumably, parents and educators want adolescents to be as healthy and happy as possible. One would hope that would be true even if those adolescents aren't managing to conform to the standards of behavior that adults would consider ideal.


Sex Ed Doesn't Increase Sex

Just because you have a raincoat doesn't mean it's going to rain. There's a silver lining to studies that say abstinence-only education doesn't reduce kids having sex. What is it? All the other studies say providing external condoms (also known as a "male" condom, these go over a penis or sex toy) in schools doesn't make kids more promiscuous.

Over the past 20 years, numerous studies have consistently demonstrated that teaching comprehensive sex education in schools doesn't have the downside most people are afraid of. In other words, providing external condoms in schools doesn't encourage adolescents to start having sex earlier, or even more often.

Having those external condoms available does seem to encourage teens to use them, but only if they would be having sex anyway.


1 in 2 Teens Have Had Sex

A large number of teens are sexually active.

According to the Youth Risk Behavioral Surveillance Survey, or YRBSS, in 2015, 41% of high school students had had sex at least once. Other findings:

  • 11.5% had four or more sexual partners.
  • 57% of sexually active students had used condoms the last time they had sex.
  • Only 18% had used birth control pills.

Furthermore, one-fifth of sexually active high school students had used drugs or alcohol before the most recent time they had sex. 


Start Safe and Stay Safe

A 2007 study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that teens who start using external condoms from the first time they have intercourse score higher on several sexual health measures than teens who don't.

The scientists followed more than 4,000 teens for an average of almost seven years. They found that those adolescents who used external condoms at their first intercourse had the same number of sexual partners as those who didn't.

Also, they were 30% more likely to have used external condoms during their most recent sexual experience. They were also only half as likely to have acquired chlamydia and gonorrhea.


Teach Boys to Be Good Men

Part of staying healthy is seeking appropriate health care. As boys age, many of them stop going for preventative health care. This limits the opportunities they have to be screened for, among other things, STIs.

A study in Pediatrics found that parents who talk to their male children about sex are more likely to have boys who go to the doctor. It's all about setting a good example.

One of the biggest risk factors for not seeking care is holding traditional views about masculinity. It's important that young men learn early that taking care of their health is one of the most "manly" things they can do.


Sex Ed Doesn't Encourage Sex

Comprehensive sex education doesn't encourage kids to have sex. Just like abstinence-only programs, good comprehensive programs teach students that abstinence is the only surefire way to prevent pregnancy and STIs.

The difference is that these programs also give students realistic and factual information about the safety of various sexual practices and how to improve the odds.


Parents Teach Moral Values

Nothing about comprehensive sex education prevents parents from teaching their kids their standards for moral behavior. If anything, having them learn the facts at school frees parents to focus on explaining their own personal religious beliefs and behavioral expectations. 


Know Means No

The more kids know, the more likely they are to say "No." Teenagers aren't stupid. When a teacher tells them that only abstinence can protect them from the dangers of STIs and pregnancy, they know they're being lied to. At the very least, they know they're being misled.

Giving adolescents an accurate picture of the risks of different types of sexual behavior can help them make informed decisions about sex.

The most effective sex education programs tend to be the ones that try to steer teens away from specific activities that are particularly high risk.


Risks of Alternatives to Vaginal Sex

What do teenagers do when they haven't been given accurate information about sexual risks? They have oral sex, or even anal sex, instead of vaginal intercourse. In particular, many teenagers don't see oral sex as incompatible with abstinence. That's true even though oral sex can transmit several STIs.

Abstinence-only education sometimes encourages students to abstain from sex without ever telling them what sex is. In contrast, when comprehensive sex education is taught in schools, it may encourage teens to make more informed decisions before participating in alternative sexual behaviors.

Without enough information, those are behaviors that teens may falsely assume are safe.

12 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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Additional Reading

By Elizabeth Boskey, PhD
Elizabeth Boskey, PhD, MPH, CHES, is a social worker, adjunct lecturer, and expert writer in the field of sexually transmitted diseases.